Ben Bella 2010, pbk 224pp
Reviewed by Marian Van Eyk McCain
The more we learn about the nature of the Universe, the more we realize how little we really know. Plus the more physical evidence we uncover, the more difficult it gets to jiggle our theories around to fit the known facts. This is exactly what happened to Ptolemaic astronomy. The astronomers of that era ended up with a map of the heavens that kept getting more and more unwieldy all the time but they couldn’t let go of it because, well, that was all they had. Until 1543, and the publication of Copernicus’ game-changing De Revolutionibus…
The reason that Ptolemy’s system hadn’t worked very well and was getting increasingly cumbersome was simply that he had the whole thing back to front. Once we switched to the heliocentric viewpoint, everything fell into place. Nearly six centuries on, here comes another game-changer. Lanza, one of science’s new enfants terribles says, right at the start of this book, that our current theories of the physical world don’t work, and can never be made to work, until they account for life and consciousness. Once again, we have it all back to front. If we turn it all around and put life and consciousness at the centre, it all falls into place. That’s Biocentrism.
Lanza is a cell biologist and his co-author Berman is an astronomer. What they are saying—and explaining very cogently in this book—is an updated but by now well scientifically backed version of the idea Bishop Berkeley was trying to promote back in the early 18th century, i.e. that there is in fact no objective ‘reality’ out there, independent of the consciousness and perception of living organisms. A tree falling in the forest does indeed create short-lived variations in the surrounding air pressure but these pressure variations do not become ‘sound’ unless they interact with the brain-ear mechanism of some creature with ears. A burning candle emits photons but those only translate as ‘light’ when they interact with a retina that links to a living brain—moreover the nature of that ‘light’ varies according to whose retina it is: yours or an owl’s or a fly’s. As the authors explain: This ‘Is it really there?’ issue is ancient and precedes biocentrism by centuries. Biocentrism, however, explains why one view and not the other must be correct…once one fully understands that there is no independent external universe outside of biological existence, the rest more or less falls into place.
The first principle of Biocentrism, therefore, is that What we perceive as reality is a process that involves our consciousness. An “external” reality, if it existed, would by definition have to exist in space. But this is meaningless, because space and time are not absolute realities but rather tools of the human and animal mind
There are a further six principles:
2. Our external and internal perceptions are inextricably intertwined. They are different sides of the same coin and cannot be divorced from one another.
3. The behavior of subatomic particles, indeed all particles and objects, is inextricably linked to the presence of an observer. Without the presence of a conscious observer, they at best exist in an undetermined state of probability waves.
4. Without consciousness, “matter” dwells in an undetermined state of probability. Any universe that could have preceded consciousness only existed in a probability state.
5. The structure of the universe is explainable only through biocentrism. The universe is fine-tuned for life, which makes perfect sense as life creates the universe, not the other way around. The “universe” is simply the complete spatio-temporal logic of the self.
6. Time does not have a real existence outside of animal-sense perception. It is the process by which we perceive changes in the universe.
7. Space, like time, is not an object or a thing. Space is another form of our animal understanding and does not have an independent reality. We carry space and time around with us like turtles with shells. Thus, there is no absolute self-existing matrix in which physical events occur independent of life.
The reason it has taken so long to get here—and why there is still pushback from the mainstream scientific community—is that science has had such a huge difficulty in dealing with the thorny issue of consciousness. Since it cannot be fully explained without venturing too close to ‘religious’ kinds of ideas, there has been no place for it in scientific thought and it has remained the huge and mysterious elephant in the scientific room. But finally, we are starting to acknowledge its existence.
It took at least a century for heliocentrism to go mainstream but things do seem to move faster these days so maybe it will not take the world in general a whole century to start thinking in biocentric terms.
Eminently readable and absorbing, beautifully presented, with an entertaining thread of autobiography woven through its 200 pages of impeccable science, this is a book that can make your head spin and warm your heart at the same time. Recommended.